Anthony Hopkins was the draw for seeing Hitchcock, which is too tame to live up to its name. When I posted about the picture here in April, I was positively excited. With Mr. Hopkins, possibly the last great actor in proximity to Hollywood’s Golden Age, and an outstanding cast in a story based on an enticing subject, I couldn’t resist. My only reservations were one of the actresses and the company’s and crew’s track record.
It turns out that my concerns were well founded. The cast is fine, though Mr. Hopkins, James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins and Toni Collette as Hitch’s secretary stand out, and Hitchcock is, too, on a certain level. Were it a made-for-television movie, it might even be quite good. But it isn’t, so it’s not, and I recommend it only on the slimmest of expectations and for diehard film and Hitch fans at that (and you should wait for the DVD). There’s not much to work with.
The story tracks twin plot lines, one about the ingenious film director’s marriage to Alma (Helen Mirren) and one about his movie, Psycho. Inserted into the plot are two devices that do not fit, one that frames the movie using Hitchcock’s television program introductions and one that involves a hallucinatory angle that takes liberty with his psychology and raises more questions than it answers. It adds up to a movie that’s cute, contrived and artificial. Hitchcock has interesting scenes, such as almost anything pertaining to Psycho‘s development and the marriage is also engaging insofar as it explores what makes living with a legend – or any intellectual – an enormous challenge.
The intersection of movie and marriage is, in director Sacha Gervasi’s hands, not nearly as interesting. Sure, there’s a sweetness to this tale of an older married couple climaxing in life and in art amid their pent-up troubles, demands and desires as the legendary director makes the change from his Rear Window era to his last, and, curiously, most remembered pictures, such as The Birds, which foretold a cultural era dominated by chronic fear and death worship. Knowingly or not, Alma flirts with having an affair while Hitch leers at his Psycho leading lady Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johannson) who gets an earful from her co-star Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) and fends off studio and industry types. But none of one’s memory of that iconic 1960 movie is exactly rewarded with recreations or insights and instead the jumbled intrusions of Alma’s trips to the beach to write her own material and Hitch’s hallucinations break up the material and downsize the whole thing.
Alfred Hitchcock, one of the motion picture industry’s most talented filmmakers, a true, great artist, comes off smallest of all, despite Mr. Hopkins’s excellent performance. The film’s tag line, “Behind every Psycho is a great woman”, takes root, giving Ms. Mirren, but not Mr. Hopkins, a big showy scene, and we are left with the hero with feet of clay – or at the least the sexist inference that a man’s really nothing without a woman – which not only doesn’t do justice to the woman who was Mrs. Hitchcock; it emasculates the genius. No matter which Psycho scenes are cobbled together, you really get no sense of what makes his movies works of art. And, for a movie that bears his name, that feels like a monumental injustice. There are interesting scenes, interplays and moments, certainly, and this is a movie about a legend so it’s hard not to watch. Collette is always rich on screen. There are keen observations about Psycho as a logical extension of Hitchcock’s undervalued Rope, a terrific, taut picture about an intellectual getting exactly the ideas in practice that he preaches, what constitutes horror and the lessons of self-restraint. But Hitchcock ultimately takes Hitchcock down a notch.